Road tripping in Canada can be unpredictable.
Sometimes campers can plan ahead and book the perfect camping trip well in advance — and other times, you have to wing it with a same-day reservation, maybe even arriving after dark.
We’ve been there, and that’s why we’re sharing our best tips for scoring a last-minute campsite for your RV in a pinch.
Most campsites at national parks, provincial parks, and private campgrounds require reservations. But within many parks are a small subset of first-come, first-served (FCFS) sites that reward the early bird. You may need to do a bit of research to find them, but many park websites provide information on typical fill times, so you know just how early you need to arrive for the best shot. For example, recommended arrival times can be around 8 or 9 a.m. on summer weekends, while off-season or weekday campsites fill later in the afternoon.
Banff National Park is, of course, extremely popular, with Alberta Parks campsites booking up months ahead of time. But it isn’t always possible to know where you’ll be three or more months in advance. When this is the case, the park has three first-come, first-served campgrounds. Protection Mountain, Mosquito Creek, and Waterfowl Lakes. Everyone there will be winging it and looking for a last-minute camping spot along with you — just make sure you’re there early enough to snag a coveted spot.
Looking for something off the beaten path without the usual RV park crowds? Hipcamp helps campers discover and book one-of-a-kind outdoor stays, including hundreds of secluded RV sites across Canada. First, download the mobile app (Apple // Android) to browse on the road, then use the platform’s Instant book filter to show RV campsites you can book without waiting for Host approval. These sites are typically ready for you to show up with no waiting period, sometimes even especially late at night. Read each site’s description and know that Hosts are notified immediately upon booking, so they know to expect you. You can also message them directly within the app to coordinate your arrival, even when away from your laptop.
It might seem old school, but one of the best ways to try your luck is to simply call into a reservable campground — on private or public lands — a couple of days before you’d like to arrive. This is prime time for potential open slots due to cancellations, as Alberta Parks and other provinces allow cancellations up to 72 hours before someone's scheduled arrival date. Campers cancel and leave early more often than you’d think because their plans change. Take advantage!
Want a solid chance at securing a safe spot to park for the night? Head further afield, away from cities, where there will be less competition for RV campsites, and find a place to wild camp (boondock).
The best place to set up camp for free and without a permit is on a backcountry site located on unmaintained crown land. Eighty-seven percent of Ontario is crown land and is free to camp on for up to 21 days, so long as campers are respectful of Leave No Trace principles.
Wild camping might require driving a bit farther out, and you’ll need a self-contained RV, but crown land is a smart bet for avoiding reservations and stressful, late-night searches for a place to set up your RV.
Want to know more about wild camping or boondocking? Check out How to Find Free RV Campsites in Canada.
You don’t need to own an RV to camp at the last minute. With RVezy, you can rent an RV and be on a camping adventure in no time. For more inspiration for your next last-minute camping trip, check out these articles: